What is a bone density test?

A bone density test is an imaging scan that uses a low dose of X-rays to examine the amount of calcium and other minerals in your bones. One of the most common reasons to have a bone density test is to screen for or monitor osteoporosis.

By knowing your bone density, you can take proactive steps to care for your bone health and reduce your risk of fractures as you age. This test goes by many names, including bone densitometry, DXA scan, dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan or bone density scan.

Types of DEXA scans:

  • DEXA scan for body fat and muscle

    Some of our locations offer DEXA scans for evaluating your body’s composition, including fat and muscle. Using this imaging, your team can estimate the fat percentage versus muscle, called body composition. These numbers may give you a more accurate picture of your health compared to other measures like body mass index (BMI).

  • DEXA scan for osteoporosis

    Osteoporosis happens when you lose bone mass or density, leading to weak bones that break more easily. A DEXA scan or bone density test offers a quick, non-invasive screening that allows your doctor to track your bone density and address bone loss over time.

Who should have a DEXA bone density scan?

According to the US Preventive Services Task Force, DEXA bone density screenings are recommended starting at age 65 for women at an average risk of osteoporosis. While no screening guidelines exist for men, they may consider talking to their doctors about the screening starting at age 70.

A bone density scan is recommended earlier than 65 for those with factors or signs of osteoporosis that make the condition more likely. These may include:

  • Losing more than 1.5 inches in height
  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Previous bone fractures
  • Certain medications, like steroids or therapies for breast cancer 
  • Rarely, taking specific hormone treatments or removal of the testicles without taking estrogen in transgender women
  • Rarely, taking specific hormone treatments, not starting hormone therapy or removing the ovaries in transgender men
  • Other health conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, thyroid conditions or liver disease 
  • Lifestyle factors, such as smoking, a low-calcium diet or lack of exercise

Bone density test preparation


Fortunately, there’s not much you need to do to prepare for a bone density test. Be sure and talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns in advance of your scan. Before your bone density scan, our team can answer any questions you have about what to expect during your bone density test. This simple, quick imaging scan is non-invasive, painless and uses a small dose of radiation.

In most cases, your appointment will be completed in less than 30 minutes. Here’s a quick guide on what steps you can take to prepare and what you can expect on the day of your bone density scan.

Before your bone density scan

A bone density test only requires a little preparation on the day of your visit. To get ready for your test:

  • Eat and drink as you normally would.
  • Do not take vitamins, calcium supplements or other mineral supplements during the 24 hours before your test.
  • Wear comfortable clothes without metal such as zippers, belts, buttons or jewelry.
  • Bring your photo ID and insurance card to your appointment.
  • Make sure at least 3-4 days have passed since you have had any contrast studies.

What to expect during your bone density scan

At your appointment, our team will guide you through each step of your screening. Here’s an overview of what you can expect:

  • Usually, you can stay in your normal clothes for your scan.
  • Your technologist will have you lie down on the imaging table and may have you adjust your position or use supports to get you in the right place.
  • Then, the imaging arm will pass over your body.
  • A computer will translate your images into a measurement of bone density. The results will be reviewed by a radiologist.
  • Your doctor will get the results of your test within a few days and help decide the next steps in your care.

Interpreting your bone density scan results

After a radiologist reviews your scan, the physician who referred you for a DEXA scan will get a report with the results. This report will include two scores—a T score and a Z score. If your results show possible bone mass loss, osteoporosis or other concerns, your referring physician will discuss your next steps and what treatment options may be right for you. See below for an explanation of the T score and Z score and how to make sense of the results of your DEXA scan.

Our women's imaging centers near you

Several of our locations provide bone density scans to care for you, including imaging centers, women’s imaging centers and clinics throughout North and Central Texas.

Frequently asked questions

  • Does a bone density test show cancer?

    No, bone density tests aren’t used to show or diagnose cancer. Bone density scans are used to detect signs of osteoporosis or the loss of bone mass. Bone scans, which require an injection of dye, are used to diagnose cancer.

    If you’re undergoing cancer treatments, such as certain types of hormone treatments for breast cancer, your care team may order a bone density scan since your treatments can put you at risk for bone mass loss.

  • What do you wear for a bone density test?

    Wear comfortable clothes to your DEXA scan appointment. You’ll want to avoid clothing and accessories with metal, such as buttons, buckles, jewelry, zippers or glasses. Also, the test requires you to lay flat on your back, so be sure to choose clothes that you will be comfortable in while lying down.

  • At what age should you get a bone density test?

    According to the US Preventive Services Task Force, women at average risk should begin screenings starting at age 65. For those who have risk factors, such as a family history of osteoporosis, talk with your doctor about whether you should begin screening earlier.

    While there is no screening recommendation for men, those with risk factors for bone density loss or over 70 may also ask their doctor about screening.

  • How often do you do a DEXA scan?

    The timing of each scan depends on your previous test results, age, your risk of breaking a bone and other factors. After your first scan, your doctor will recommend your next screening timing based on your needs. Most insurance providers and Medicare will cover a bone density screening every two years.

  • At what age should you stop getting bone density tests?

    The US Preventive Services Task Force guidelines do not provide an age limit for bone density screenings. Your doctor can recommend the right timing and frequency based on your health.